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A Little Blue

Twenty Two

10/24/09 1010 outside Rathcormac, Ireland

Keeping to the shadows, Ciaran slowly turned, his binoculars pressed to his eyes as he looked over the area near the nest or hive or whatever you wanted to call it. Elsa and Victoria had exited from teleport nearly a kilometer from the nest and he was surprised at how something that big would still be so hard to see.

The nest itself was brown and green. From what he knew about the breed, it would be a composite mixture of mud and masticated wood shaped and allowed to dry. He smiled slightly at a thought.

“What’s so funny,” Victoria asked almost absently as she kept watch beside him.

“I just realized that the hive is made of particle board.” He saw motion near one end of the hive and focused his glasses on it.

It was a Wasp standing guard at the ground entrance to the nest. She was standing still and was looking around slowly while chewing on something. A wave of revulsion tightened his stomach when he realized she was holding part of an arm. The chitin on it suggested it was probably a piece of one of the sentries Elsa had killed, but it still nauseated him.

But seeing her standing there gave him a better idea of how big the hive was. Using her as a guide it was probably 300 meters long and maybe a quarter that high. Bushes and grass grew on the walls, breaking up the outline and providing a lot of the green he’d seen earlier. There wasn’t anything about Wasps having a low feral state, so he wasn’t sure how they’d managed to actively camouflage the nest. Or perhaps it had just been here for years and nobody had managed to survive an encounter with them to report their presence.

Two Wasps flew out of a hidden opening halfway up the nest’s wall and turned away to head off to the south. His twee highlighted one other entrance on the other end of the nest besides the two he’d already seen. An infrared survey with his computer had shown air vents were regularly spaced over the entirety of the hive.

“When are we going to attack,” Mike growled next to him.

“People who hurry while taking on a Wasp nest tend to end up dying,” Ciaran replied as he lowered the binoculars. “That won’t help your father one bit.”

“We’ve been here forever,” Mike growled back.

“We have been here for six minutes,” Baker said as she checked her watch. “Have you seen what you need to, Ciaran?”

“I’d like to watch them for a few days to learn their routines,” Ciaran was putting his binoculars back in his pack. “But if he’s still alive in there Jeremiah really doesn’t have time for us to do that.” He turned to Ceres. “You’re the tactical leader.”

She nodded. “I’d still like to hear what you think.”

“I think you and Spirit should assault the hive while Elsa and Victoria go in and retrieve Jeremiah if he’s alive. If Libby’s playing she can help you and Spirit. Kentarch can guard us helpless humans and provide cover fire if needed. After Ahern is out or confirmed dead, we burn everything to the ground, capture what we can and kill the rest of them. The queen is a priority target if she shows herself or tries to flee, since her death can temporarily halt the Wasps while they decide on a new queen.”

Ceres frowned slightly. “Your plan is similar to mine but I was going to put Victoria with Spirit while I went inside with Elsa. What’s your reasoning for the difference?”

“Victoria and Elsa both have weapons they can summon. Any fighting in there will be by necessity at close quarters and your flame attacks are really more suited to outside the hive where you won’t smother everyone with smoke from your techniques when they ignite the structure. Out here you can provide much more of a distraction than Victoria can and that’s what we need until the Ahern issue is resolved. On top of that, both of them can teleport to safety if it becomes an issue or to expedite Ahern’s rescue.”

Ceres regarded him for a long moment before smiling broadly. “Victoria, you are with Elsa. The two of you are to find proof that Ahern is alive or dead. Recover him if alive or his corpse if you can otherwise.”

Victoria nodded. “Are our lives worth his?”

Mike flushed angrily but kept silent as Ciaran considered the question. “I’d prefer it if you only took reasonable risks to rescue him but in this he is an innocent and it falls to us to save him if we can. But no, he’s not worth either of your lives. Kill him if you can’t rescue him.”

“What!”

Mike started to roar but cut off when Kentarch grabbed him by the throat and squeezed hard enough to cut off his air. “Silent,” she hissed. “Our lives are not yours to endanger by shouting next to a Wasp nest.” She released him and he gasped for air. “Don’t wheeze so loudly.”

Victoria didn’t glance at Mike. “Are you sure about that,” she said quietly. “We are supposed to help those in need.”

“We still have to destroy the nest to help everyone that they will attack in the coming days,” Elsa interrupted. “If we can’t rescue him, killing him will be a mercy before we burn the nest down.” She nodded to Ciaran. “I swear we will do the best we can to retrieve him alive.”

“You don’t have to swear to me,” he replied as he checked the magazine on his shotgun. “You do what you say you will. I trust that implicitly.”

Drones lifted off from Kentarch’s body and moved over to hover closely around Spirit. “Will Kentarch be providing active defense for us while we attack or will she be reactive only to protect Ciaran, Uncle Mike and Tamsin?”

Ceres glanced at Ciaran. “She will be reactive only.”

Ciaran shook his head. “She will unless and until you need the help. At that point I will order her to engage unless she’s already done so.”

“Relax, Ciaran, I will protect my sisters if they require it,” Kentarch said softly. “Ceres, I will observe otherwise so as to not draw undue attention to the people I am protecting.” A chuckle echoed from her speakers. “We both know that otherwise he will open fire. I can move a short way from him and so not call the Wasps directly to him while he and the others hide.”

Ceres nodded. “Do so.” She turned to Victoria. “Logically the queen would be in the deepest part of the hive.”

Elsa smiled hungrily. “We’re going in through the center of the nest at the bottom. If Ahern’s scent is there I can track him. If not, we’ll do some more cutting as we explore. Start the distraction.” She grabbed Victoria’s arm and they vanished, reappearing against the side of the hive. Immediately they crouched.

“Mistress,” Libby asked quietly. “May I fight with them?”

Baker nodded. “I’ll stay with Ciaran and Mike.”

“Thank you, mistress.”

Ceres looked at Ciaran. “Please get out of the way.”

He grabbed Mike by the arm. “Already moving. Give us ten seconds and start.” He, Baker, Mike and Kentarch moved under the cover of some nearby trees as Ceres, Libby and Spirit headed for the hive.

Ceres shifted to her combat form as Spirit’s drones rose into the air, already becoming hard to see as their color continuously shifted. The Astral lifted an arm and looked at Ceres. “Are you ready?” The massive head lifted and fell. “Then let me get their attention.” Plasma shot from her arm weapon and shredded one of the sentry’s legs.

The Wasp screamed throatily as she fell sideways. Her wings buzzed and lifted her into the air before she could hit the ground. She turned to face the direction the plasma bolt had come from and vanished into a cloud of energy as one of Eriu’s pokeballs smashed her in the head.

But the alert had been heard and low frequency buzzing as Wasps streamed out of the three exits to defend their home and their queen was so powerful that the air seemed to throb around Ciaran and his people.

Spirit was watching the Wasps as they emerged from the hive. “How much of a distraction should this be?”

I do not understand the question, Ceres said through her twee.

“What,” Libby asked, not hearing the discussion between the two other women.

“We are supposed to distract the Wasps so Victoria and Elsa can infiltrate the hive and retrieve Ahern. Do we just snipe at them or are we supposed to actually attack at full power?”

Ciaran said we will move to eliminate the hive and capture or kill the Wasps after Victoria and Elsa rejoin us. Anything we can do to reduce their numbers now we should do. This is a full power attack on the Wasps.

“We’re going to destroy them, right,” Libby said. “We should hit them as hard as we can.”

“Just to make sure I understand this, I am weapons free?”

Ceres grunted loudly and waggled her head up and down. Ciaran would like captures for sale if possible, so we must weaken them for Eriu to pokeball them, but we are to kill them otherwise. You are weapons free.

“Thank you for the clarification.” Spirit shifted to her full combat mode and the world around her seemed to slow to a crawl. Through the sensors of the six hovering drones as well as the sensors lining her body, she could see almost every Wasp from one vantage point or another. She paused for a quarter of a second to consider her targets. The head of a Wasp was insectile, covered with chitin and therefore armored. Also armored were two of her arms, her legs and the abdomen that extended behind her human torso and carried poison glands and a sixty centimeter stinger that delivered her poisons. Similar stingers were housed in her armored arms. Her wings were fast moving membranes far stronger than they looked, but they would burn in any high temperature fire. Granted, the armor was chitin and was more than vulnerable to her weapons, but why would one take a chance if one didn’t have to? Fortunately, in this case she didn’t. A Wasp’s torso was the most human part of her. It was unarmored and therefore vulnerable to almost any attack. Her torso was also much larger and easier to target than her wings were. Some of the Wasps had seen them and, to Spirit’s perception, were slowly turning to face their opponents. Having decided on a plan of attack, Spirit wasted another quarter second in a count. She had a hundred and twenty six available targets, with perhaps another dozen out of sight below the level of the hive on its other side. She decided to keep her arm cannons as a reserve in case of calamity and opened fire.

Every hovering drone spat a bolt of plasma, each tiny cyan piece of solar material targeting one of the six closest Wasps. The plasma bolts took each Wasp just under the ribcage, flashing to steam all of the liquid in a chunk of flesh the size of a melon. The resulting steam explosion shattered surrounding bone and organs in a dark spray that tumbled the Wasps through the sky.

The bolts hissed loudly as they interacted with the atmosphere through with they flew. If any radios had been nearby, they would have screamed with feedback from the RF energy liberated by the destruction of air molecules in the plasma.

After firing each drone slewed sideways at high speed and, an eighth of a second later, targeted another Wasp and fired again before changing direction randomly and firing once more. The effect was to make it look like there were dozens of hard to see drones attacking from all directions, hopefully confusing her victims and keeping them from targeting the camouflaged weapon systems. It had worked exceedingly well against the humans who had murdered her sisters, letting them damage only one of her drones while she exterminated them.

The feral Wasps were completely helpless against it. Even if they’d had ranged weapons with which to counterattack the conclusion would not have changed in the time it took them to be overcome. Spirit ceased fire three seconds later only because she’d run out of targets. Two of her drones lifted higher to see over the hive and opened fire again briefly. If she’d been out to kill them, she would have attacked the writhing figures again and again until she was sure they were dead, but they were rapidly disappearing into pokeballs as Eriu’s drones reacted as fast as Spirit had attacked. But then if she’d been out to kill them, she would have shot the Wasps in their bulbous compound eyes.

Her drones continued their random evasion patterns while she monitored the battlefield during Eriu’s captures.

Kentarch had returned to her human form and was staring at the battlefield. She gulped loudly and looked at Ciaran with eyes blazing with eagerness. “I will be able to do that someday!”

Baker shook her head slowly. “That was incredible. I don’t suppose you could find a hundred more like Spirit for the Royal Army, could you? The Blues would be finished.”

“I am the only Kentarch,” Kentarch said proudly. “My children will do what she can and what I will.”

At the other group, Ceres shifted to her human form. “Please tell me that Elsa didn’t see that.”

Libby shook her head. “She and Victoria entered the hive as soon as Spirit shot the guard. She didn’t see it. That was very impressive.”

“That’s good. I don’t want her trying to outdo what Spirit just did or perhaps challenge her so she can prove she’s better than Spirit is. Those drones would tear her to pieces.”

Spirit’s head came around and the voice from the speakers sounded shocked. “I would never use my drones on Elsa or any other of my family.”

Ceres looked surprised. “Why not?”

“A squabble for status with a sibling or a harem sister is just that, a squabble. My drones are for war.” While she didn’t say it, Ceres heard the “you idiot” in Spirit’s voice. “My drones are only used in fights to the death.”

Ceres thought about it for a second before nodding. “That makes sense. Otherwise the entire Kentarch breed would have slaughtered itself before ever entering combat. We will teach Kentarch’s children the same rules.”

Spirit tossed her head. “Of course we will.” She went still. “Something is coming out of the hive’s topmost exit. It is the Wasp Queen and a handful of more Wasps. Shall I engage?”

Ceres started to say something and stopped when Eriu whispered something in her mind. She suddenly grinned. “Kill the Wasp Queen. Don’t touch the royal guards.”

“I hear you. Firing.” Six plasma bolts took the Wasp Queen from all sides as she spat balls of a jellylike substance in front of her. Her head and thorax spun away from her torso in sprays of blood. Three of the Wasps with her suddenly began to glow. “They are evolving to Wasp Queen,” Spirit said conversationally. “Shall I kill them now?”

“No,” Ceres replied. “We’ll cripple them once they’re done evolving. This way we catch three disoriented Wasp Queens for sale instead of just one angry one.”

“Not to mention,” Spirit said musingly, “if Ahern is dead we have revenged him.”

“I hadn’t considered that, but you’re right. That will certainly make Uncle Mike happy, if not Ciaran.”

Ceres looked at Libby. “Would you go get the captain and the others? I believe it’s safe enough for them to join us.”

“I will,” Libby replied. She loped off.

“They are finished evolving,” Spirit noted. The three Wasp Queens were hissing at each other while the remaining Wasps fell back to coalesce in a loose group some distance away.

“Can you again do what you did to the other Wasps?”

Spirit nodded without looking away from the Wasp Queens. “I can.” Once more plasma bolts streaked across the area. In seconds the Wasp Queens and the remaining Wasps were trying futilely to escape from pokeballs.

“You realize,” Ciaran said quietly as he joined them, “that now we have to find all of those pokeballs. That is not going to be fun.”

Eriu appeared in front of him. “I learned my lesson from the encounter with the Titodiles. All of the pokeballs used today have a removable tracking device on them so we can locate them more easily.” She cocked her head and smiled broadly. “I have heard that being a treat is a nice thing. Does this make me a treat?”

He laughed. “Indeed it does.”

Victoria appeared nearby, holding a limp figure in her arms. “I have Ahern,” she said quietly. “He’s been severely drugged and is badly injured but is still alive. He should stay that way.” Her eyes met Ciaran’s. “I’ve done what I can. At this point his remaining injuries are beyond my ability to heal. And there are other problems.”

Ahern’s right arm had been severed between the elbow and the shoulder. The place on the end where it had been amputated had been packed with the same masticated wood mixture that made up the hive. His eyes were open, but glassy and his pupils had dilated to the point that he had no whites around them. As Ciaran watched, he slowly blinked once.

“What are the other problems,” Ciaran asked as Mike rushed forward to take his father from the Angel.

“The Wasps have a full brooding chamber,” Victoria said in an even lower voice as Mike stepped away, holding his father. “There are at least twenty humans and pokegirls in there. All are in various stages of pregnancy. They’re all drugged, too, and they’re drugged enough they’re not aware of what’s really going on. Elsa is staying with them to keep them safe if there are any more Wasps in the hive somewhere.” She gave him a helpless look. “What do we do with them?”

“We turn them over to the Irish Army,” Ceres answered for him. “Unless it turns out that we know one of them, which is a highly unlikely event.”

Victoria glanced towards Mike. “What if he knows one of them? It’s possible they’re from this area.”

Ceres shrugged. “We’ll let him see them. If he knows them he can contact their families and they can get them from the Irish government. We are not set up to take care of the problems they’re going to have.”

Spirit shifted to her human form. “Whether they started out that way or not, any pokegirls need to be treated as if they’re feral before we let Mike, Tamsin or Ciaran near them. Pokeball them before you do anything else. If they come down from the drugs as they are they could easily kill every human around them, including both the pregnant humans and Ciaran if he’s there.” She looked at Ciaran. “Is there a way to tell if a pokegirl in a ball is feral or not without releasing her?”

“Not that I am aware of,” he said thoughtfully. “Which means I can’t be around when they’re first released either. But you’re right. Any pokegirl who is visibly pregnant is going to be feral and the others should be treated as if they are.”

Eriu had been listening without speaking. “Not to change the subject, but if you scan Ahern with the medical scanner I can determine if I can deal with his injures on the Cnoc Raffan. He’s still alive so I probably can treat any physical problem he might have, but it will reassure your uncle if I tell him I can after a medical analysis.” She glanced at him. I could deal with the pregnant women too, if you want.

He shook his head without realizing he’d done so. The women who aren’t pokegirls will wake up to find they’ve lost a significant amount of time and are pregnant with a Wasp baby from drug assisted rape they hopefully won’t even remember. What they need is strong family support and an outstanding therapist. We can provide neither to them, and not for the years they’ll need it. And they will have some very hard decisions to make about their pregnancies, decisions that I want no part of. Any pokegirls who were aware will have similar issues and decisions to make once they’ve been made aware again. I don’t want to be involved and I really don’t want to be volunteered to remove the feral state from them. “Do we need to wait for the pinnace or will you be coming down here?”

Eriu looked surprised. “You’d let me land?”

“Of course I would. The Royals and the Irish know Iain has access to space travel. I don’t have to tell them that it’s my ship, but whatever assumptions they make are not my problem.” He glanced to the side. “Besides, when Theodora ran everyone through medical on the shuttle all of my ladies had previously healed broken bones and other injuries that needed correction. Kentarch and Elsa could probably benefit from that too.” He looked at his uncle. “Uncle Mike, is there a place near your house where something three hundred meters long and twenty meters wide could go? Pasture would be fine and it doesn’t need to have access like a road or anything.”

“That’s good since there are no roads that wide.” Mike frowned for a second before nodding. “Yes. Why?”

“There’s a ship that’s going to be landing soon to heal Jeremiah and it’ll need a place to park. It will clean the drugs out of his system and can even regenerate his arm.”

Mike blinked. “It can do miracles?”

“No, and I don’t want what it’s going to do for Jeremiah to get out. I had better not find a line of crippled and lame outside the Cnoc Raffan when I go to check on him. This is being done as a favor.”

“It is from your employer?”

Ciaran shrugged. “I requested this and I don’t really want to talk about what this is going to cost me, Uncle Mike.”

Mike frowned. “Why are you doing this? You’ve already made it plain that you don’t like your grandfather.”

“I don’t know my grandfather at all,” Ciaran replied. “I know he is my grandfather, he’s very angry at something and that he threatened my life before he knew who I was. That’s pretty much it, although I can guess being a one armed man alone in a ruined house is not going to help him to get into a better spirit. So the Cnoc Raffan will give him a new arm. His attitude I can’t do anything about. That’s all on him.”

“We can only hope and pray for him,” Ceres added.

Ciaran smiled at her. “Yes, we can do that too.” His smile faded as he turned to Mike. “When will the military show up?”

Baker knew that look. “What happened?”

“The reason Elsa is still inside that hive is because there’s a room full of pregnant women and pokegirls. All are drugged and all can be presumed to be carrying Wasp kits. I want to turn them over to some government representative because we can’t care for them. We don’t have the people or the facilities.”

“We’d like Uncle Mike to take a look at them and see if he can identify anybody,” Victoria said. “If so, the family can be told that those people aren’t dead and that the government has them.”

“The army will go to Jeremiah’s home,” Mike said dully. “They won’t know to come here.”

Baker straightened. “We can take him back and wait, Ciaran. I remember the lake and I’m not excited to be wandering about on my hands and knees looking for pokeballs like last time.”

He chuckled. “Fine, you just go ahead and skate out on the fun stuff.”

Baker snorted. “That is not going to be fun.”

“No, but afterwards we’ll be exploring the hive for any Wasps that didn’t leave for some reason and loot.” He grinned when Libby’s ears flattened. “Sorry, I couldn’t help teasing for a second. I don’t expect any loot, just drugged pregnant women and the dead. I would appreciate it if you and Tamsin took Uncle Mike back to Jeremiah’s house and brought any rescuers here.”

“The Cnoc Raffan can land here to load Jeremiah before moving to near Uncle Mike’s house,” Eriu said. “That way his treatment will start as soon as possible.”

“Excellent,” Ciaran answered cheerfully. “Do it.” He looked at Victoria. “We will secure the area and begin collecting pokeballs. Cut an opening to the brood chamber while Ceres and Spirit check for more Wasps. I’ll stay out here with Kentarch and Mr. Ahern so we can make sure that if any strays show up you all get the opportunity to greet them as they deserve while Tamsin takes Uncle Mike to wait for the military to finally arrive.”

10/25/09 1130 Sabine House, Texas League

Iain poked Dorothy on the nose with his fingertip. “You just hold still for a second.” The quick touch startled her and stopped her squirming long enough for him to finish putting her new diaper on. “There you go, little lady,” he chuckled as he picked her up.

Pandora looked past him to the door. “She’s here.” Her face gave nothing away, but Iain knew she wasn’t happy to see their visitor.

He also knew that if he handed Dorothy to her right now she’d take the infant but she’d give him hell about it in private later since she was currently his guard. There were other ways to advance his agenda and so he tucked the child into his arms a little more firmly as he turned to the door. “Good morning, Ygerna.” His eyes widened slightly. “Cute outfit.”

Ygerna smiled at him. “Thanks.” She was wearing a pretty knee length skirt and blouse in a light blue. “I am trying to fit in better with the people I am living near, that being the people in Shield and your family.” Her smile faded slightly as she looked past him at Pandora. “Since you’ve assured my safety I don’t think I need a guard here. Why do you?”

“I don’t think I do either.” He looked over his shoulder at the Archangel. “They, on the other hand, feel I still need one when I leave my bedroom.”

“Ah. I was concerned that it was my presence.” She eyed the baby speculatively. “Which one of April’s children is that?”

“This is Dorothy.” Hearing her name, Dorothy made a noise and Iain kissed the Duelist on the forehead. “Yes, I said your name, little one.” He looked up to see Ygerna looking at him with an expression he hadn’t seen on her face before. “What?”

“Why haven’t I taken you as a lover? You are powerful enough and I presume you are good in bed with all of the women in your life. And in the unlikely event that there was a child you would be a good father to it.”

Iain looked at Dorothy again for a moment to get his surge of anger under control and back up at Ygerna. “Do you want diplomatic or honest?”

She hesitated, showing she could learn from experience. She’d been burned by his honesty before. “How brutal is honest going to be?”

“I think it will be blunt more than it will be brutal.”

Ygerna nodded. “I would prefer you to be honest with me, Iain, in all of our dealings. I have few friends and I think I’d like you as one. So please be honest.”

He blinked. She’d used the word please. He wasn’t sure he’d heard that word from her before. “There are several reasons we aren’t lovers, Ygerna. First of all, you tend to think in terms of dalliances. I don’t know if it’s a holdover from before you became queen or if it developed afterwards in an attempt to keep your knights at arm’s length to maintain your royal dignity. It doesn’t really matter for this. I am not into casual relationships and I think you are aware of that fact. That’s why, even though sometimes it doesn’t look like I do, I am careful about whom I allow into my bed, which also means close to my heart.” He gestured towards Pandora. “Second, you aren’t big into sharing and I am not going to be able to be exclusive to anyone for,” he paused, “ever.” His eyes hardened slightly. “And finally, you don’t have the right mindset about how a relationship should proceed. I knew that from your question and how it was worded. You see, I have been taken before, I didn’t particularly like it and I am done being taken by anyone ever again. Attempts to do so will just result in an immediate struggle for survival for everyone involved. A relationship, especially a romantic one, should be between consenting adults. Taken implies anything but consent, but it is how you’ve been used to thinking about humans for a very long time.”

Ygerna regarded him for several long seconds. “I think there was a little more brutality in there than you thought there would be. Still, it is logical and, unfortunately with some of the harsher things you said, I agree with your assessment of my behavior.” She glanced at the baby again. “But how do I proceed other than in the ways I already know?”

“There are many ways to approach a man,” Pandora said abruptly, “that don’t involve hitting him on the head and dragging him to your bed. Not all of them work on every man, but courtship and flirting seem to work well with most.”

“Me, court?” Ygerna seemed surprised. “I am,” she broke off as her face twisted. “I was once queen.”

Iain put Dorothy into her basket. “Pandora, could you give us a moment?”

The Archangel nodded. “I’ll be right outside.”

As soon as the door shut, Iain hugged Ygerna. The Sidhe stiffened in his arms for an instant before clinging to him fiercely. Eventually her arms relaxed and she just rested against him. “When is the last time someone touched you?”

“My personal guards,” she said into his neck, “touch me when I bathe and such, but that is not what you are asking. I am not sure I can remember when. Not even my lovers are this familiar with me.”

“Everyone can be lonely, Ygerna,” he said softly. “And it can do horrible things to your soul. Don’t let it.” He slowly let her go. “You can always come to me for a hug and comfort. You need to cultivate other friends that you can touch socially, but I’ll never question why you want this.”

She met his gaze. “And if I want more than comfort?”

“You don’t even begin to know all of the strings that come with a relationship with me. You’d better spend enough time around my family to discover those before you ask questions like that. Until then, my answer is going to be to politely decline.”

“Your family will insist that I get to know them first.”

He smiled. “And what do you think you’ll have to do in order to learn those strings? It is possible. I never said it would be easy.”

“But in the meantime I can get this?”

“Almost any time you want.”

She nodded. “Thank you, Iain Grey.”

“You are welcome. I’m going to call Pandora back now.”

She settled down in a chair. “Very well. Do I look mussed?”

He eyed her briefly. “No.”

She smiled. “That is a pity. It would make Pandora wonder.”

“I don’t allow myself to be alone with strangers much. We’re friends but the harem doesn’t really think of you that way. Trust me, she’s wondering right now. And the fact that others will be able to smell you on me and me on you will make them wonder even more, even if neither one of us smells like sex.” His lips quirked. “Or maybe they’ll wonder more because we don’t smell like sex.”

Her eyes twinkled suddenly. “Good. I don’t wish to make enemies of your family, but they are too certain of my place in their world. Uncertainty on their part will help me to get to know them better.”

Iain sighed and tapped on the door. Pandora opened it enough to look inside. “That was quick,” she said. “You’re not normally quick.”

Ygerna made a sound suspiciously like a choked off snicker.

Iain ignored the way Pandora’s eyes cut towards the Sidhe woman. “And yet in some ways it seemed like an eternity passed.” He shoved the door open. “Get in here. I still need to talk to Ygerna about why I requested her to come see me.”

Pandora quickly resumed her position as his guard as he turned back to Ygerna. “I wanted to talk to you about the library, specifically our agreement for you to use it.”

Ygerna nodded. “I will not allow you to end our agreement. You would be foresworn.”

“I’m not looking to end it. I just want some clarification. Did we agree that you would use the library as is?”

“No, the agreement was for me to use the library. Its status wasn’t part of the discussion.”

“So if I wanted to remove things from the library you couldn’t use them?”

She shook her head. “The agreement was for me to use the books in the library. If you take them out, they’re still part of the library at the time the agreement was made.”

“That sounds like an as is agreement. What if I wanted to add something to the library? Would you be allowed access to it?”

“I would,” she replied.

Pandora stirred. “You can’t have it both ways.”

Ygerna smiled at her. “I can certainly try. The status of the library was undetermined by the definitions of the agreement we made. The library was defined as the contents of the library. It was not defined as the contents just at the time of the agreement or the contents at some future time. I could and would argue that for the purposes of my access and our agreement that the library should be composed of every book that has ever been or will be a part of it during the duration of our agreement.”

“That’s an interesting interpretation,” Iain said, waving Pandora down as she started to say something. “And, believe it or not, it’s the one I want to use.”

Pandora was too professional a bodyguard for her surprise to show, but he felt it across their bond. Ygerna, however, looked almost floored. “Then why are we having this discussion?”

“Because if you and I determine the status of the library now, I won’t have to listen to all of the arguments about how it should be defined by other people later.”

She nodded. “I understand. I wanted to ask a question about the library as well. If I were to place a book in the library, would it become your property?”

“Not unless you gave it to me. And you shouldn’t add anything without letting me know first, so I can head off anyone else who tries to claim whatever you added now belongs to us.”

She inclined her head gracefully. “Thank you. I would like to return to that discussion in a moment. Now, for what reason did you suddenly need to determine the status of the library and the things inside it?”

“I want to place another book in it for safekeeping.”

She raised an elegant eyebrow. “I take it this book is something very special.”

“It’s the Grimoire of Danu.”

Ygerna’s mouth dropped for a second. “How did you get it away from Shikarou? I thought he’d keep it forever.”

Iain smiled slightly and picked Dorothy back up from the basket. “He still has it. Are you familiar with how he acquired it?”

She shrugged and got up. “Is there your wonderful beer in that fridge? I suddenly need one.”

“There is.”

She opened the fridge and looked at him. “Do you or Pandora want one too?”

“Sure.” He glanced at Pandora, who nodded and pulled out a chair to sit next to him. “Two more please.”

After the beers had been distributed and opened, Ygerna took a deep swallow of hers. “I had been looking for the Grimoire ever since it had been stolen from me. Sometimes I could locate it, but I could never successfully retrieve it. I discovered that there was a way to find it in Glasgow at the park and sent one of my knights to retrieve it for me. He, of course, only knew he was going to locate and recover a lost magical book and how to keep it from killing him. Shikarou turned up before he did and managed to get the book for himself. I’ve never heard the full details of how that happened.”

“Jim found it and took it off world to a space station he’d built. In the park was a way to get to that station. Shikarou used it accidentally and found the book on the station, along with Pythia.” Iain sipped at his beer. “The Jim of this world did the same thing with this world’s Grimoire. Ciaran found it and was nice enough to allow me to acquire it.”

Ygerna frowned slightly. “Ciaran? Isn’t that the human you hired to go to Ireland for you? I never managed to meet him.”

Iain smiled. “I doubt you’ve met everyone here.”

She smiled at him. “Actually, I have made an effort to do just that. You are my neighbor and I do want to be friends and knowing the people around you is a good way to get to know you better without being obvious about it.” She smiled. “I guess I’ve already started on what you suggested I do.” She cocked her head. “No matter which world you acquired it from the Grimoire is useless to you.”

“Yes and no.” Iain put the beer down. “I may be able to figure out a way to make it think I’m Sidhe, but you’re right, I can’t do that now. In any case, I wanted to put it in the library so you could read it.”

Ygerna stared at him for several long seconds before shaking her head slightly. “And why would you grant me such a wondrous boon?” Her lips pursed. “Are you expecting me to use it on your behalf?”

“No, if I wanted something like that we’d have to negotiate it out first, as you’d expect. I want you to read it because, well, that’s what books are for. And if it can help you out, then so be it.” He smiled slightly. “And I’m telling you this because I don’t think trying to keep the fact that I have the Grimoire from you would last for very long. You wrote it and its magic might have a way of informing you of where it is, so I thought I’d be up front and tell you I had it.”

Ygerna gave him a flat look. “But I didn’t write this version. The Ygerna in the British Isles did. She’s the one it will tell, not me.”

“You were able to break Dominique’s oath to a different Ygerna,” Iain pointed out. “So we have one proof that Sidhe magic may not be that discriminatory. It might inform you, it might inform her and it might tell both of you. And putting it in the library will keep her from acquiring it if she does divine its location and either sends her knights or comes herself. It will also make it almost impossible for anyone,” he stressed the word slightly, “else to do to it either, including an undead druid and his undead half-brother.”

Ygerna looked startled. “You think they are here?”

“I intend to find out. That’s one of the things Ciaran is doing for me.”

Ygerna stared at him. “I am surprised you would send someone else into harm’s way like that.”

Pandora put her hand on his arm and spoke when he grimaced. “There are extenuating circumstances involved and Ciaran was the best of all the bad choices we had available. Eve saw that if Iain became directly involved the death toll would be hideous and could include him and us. Iain still wanted to go. Ciaran was a compromise.”

“I see.” Ygerna looked thoughtful for a moment. “Undoubtedly you are keeping as close an eye on him as you can and will rush to his rescue if he is attacked. You are not one to send someone like that blindly to his death.”

“We intend to try,” Iain replied. “Anyways, the Grimoire is what I wanted to talk to you about. Thank you for coming by.”

Ygerna nodded. “You are welcome, but this discussion easily leads into something I have been considering speaking to you about. Are we friends?”

Iain exchanged a look with Pandora. “I’ve known you for a year, Ygerna. You and your people are invited to our celebrations. You are my friend, and, I believe, friends with others of my family, even if still others aren’t that happy about your presence.”

She looked relieved. “I’m glad to hear that. I know that I owe you pretty much everything involving my stay here,” she began.

“Not anymore,” Iain interrupted. “You’ve paid off over a quarter of what you owe me.”

She smiled. “Very well, I owe you most of everything. That’s why I hesitated bringing this up, because I didn’t want to impose further on you,” she stopped for a moment before shaking her head almost violently. “I have no choice.” Golden eyes met his. “I need your help.”

“If this is courtship, it’s not very good,” Pandora said.

“This is not an attempt at courting Iain,” Ygerna said firmly. “Even I could be more subtle in that regard. No, I need your help with Shikarou. It may be an extreme imposition, but it would benefit you in the long run and,” she grimaced, “I need you to intercede for me with him.”

Iain frowned. “Does this have to do with Faelan?”

“Indirectly, perhaps, it might, but not really. You see, before Faelan agreed to date me, I had a meeting with Svetlana about what I could bring to,” she hesitated, “I believe the phrase is to the table.”

Iain nodded. “I remember it from my writing. You, Svetlana and Kasumi were going shopping and she wanted to know how you could make her family more powerful.”

“What did you offer,” Pandora asked.

“I offered access to what is probably my only remaining legacy, all of the works of the Sidhe that I had collected since they were murdered. When we left our world, those works were moved here with us. Shikarou has them and they are mine. I want them back.” She looked at her beer and took another swallow. “I don’t have any place to keep them, though, which is why I haven’t brought this up yet.” She looked across the table at Iain. “I would like to renegotiate part of the contract for the library after all. If we can retrieve them, in return for letting me house my books in your collection, I would like unlimited access to it. In return, I will allow you and yours unlimited access to my books and all of the knowledge they contain.” She took a deep breath. “And since we are friends, I will help you to learn all of the languages in which they are written and then you can teach everyone else who is interested. If, for whatever reason, I remove my books, in the meantime you will be permitted to make copies of all the ones that can be copied and those will become your property.”

Iain stared at her before smiling warmly. “That was very well done. There is no way I can’t try to help and survive Dominique and some of the others when they find out I refused your request.”

“They already know,” Pandora said. “I just told them.” He glanced at her and she shrugged. “It’s important that they know of such an offer from her.”

“Iain,” Ygerna said earnestly, “it is not my intent to trap you into giving aid. I wouldn’t do that do a friend. If you tell me that you will not help, then I will not hold it against you. If we are friends, I can only ask and you can only decide what is best for you. If needs be, I will explain to Dominique and whoever else I need to that it is your decision and that I will abide by it without rancor on my part. If your women truly love you they will understand and accept this without rancor on theirs.”

“I appreciate that,” Iain said. “You didn’t give the library to them?”

“Not in whole or in part.”

“Then it is yours.” He nodded. “And we’re friends and you need help retrieving it. I’ll help. I won’t intercede; to be honest I don’t think I have that much pull with Shikarou and his family. You’d have to try to get Kerrik’s help for that. But I’ll go with you and hold your hand and speak up for you and otherwise be a nuisance until they give us your things so we’ll go away.”

Dominique appeared standing behind Pandora. “When do we leave,” she asked eagerly.

“It’s not going to be this afternoon,” Iain said. He glanced at his beer and drained it. Then he turned and deposited Dorothy into Pandora’s arms. “I don’t need a guard right now. Ygerna is a friend.”

Pandora sighed, looked at the baby and back up at him. “I know what you’re trying to do.”

“Is it working?”

She glared at him before getting up. “Dominique, he’s yours. Dorothy will be hungry soon so I’m taking her back to April.”

Iain waited until she was gone. “Theodora?”

She appeared next to Ygerna. “Yes, Iain?”

“Please ask Selene for an appointment to see Shikarou and Kasumi at their earliest convenience and, please, not during formal court. Let them know that Ygerna and I will be attending as will,” he glanced at Dominique, “other people.”

“No problem.” She paused. “Selene wants to know what the meeting will be about so she can determine priority.”

Iain looked at Ygerna. “What do you want me to not tell him?”

The Sidhe smiled. “He’s honorable. I don’t anticipate problems with him once I explain what has transpired. Tell him the truth.”

Iain chuckled. “I should point out that a Sidhe telling me to tell the truth still leaves me a great deal of latitude.” Ygerna laughed briefly. “Theodora, the subject is I want to help Ygerna retrieve some of her stuff that she left behind when she moved and I want to make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings. Let Selene know the primary reason is the return of the libraries that Ygerna owns.”

“Done.” Theodora turned to Iain. “Selene will get back to me as soon as she can.”

“Thank you.” Iain rubbed his eyes. “Ygerna, is there anything else you wanted to discuss right now?”

“No, and I thank you for helping.”

“You’re welcome. Would you like to stay for lunch? I know you have a guard somewhere nearby and she’s welcome too.”

“Thank you, Iain, I would.”

10/27/09 0900 Michael Ahern House, Ireland

“Is something the matter, Aunt Linda?”

She jumped and whirled around, putting her hand over her heart. “Ciaran. Don’t scare me like that.”

He held up a hand apologetically. “I thought you heard me coming.” He glanced past her. “It’s hard to believe there’s a space ship hidden in that field, isn’t it?”

Linda nodded as she turned to look at the empty field. “How does something that big manage to hide right out there?”

“Remember the hologram of my mother when we called her?” She nodded, glancing at him as he spoke. “Holograms can do rather interesting things. What the Cnoc Raffan does is use cameras to look at the area around it and then use a bank of holographic projectors to create an image around the ship that makes it look like its surroundings. It’s a form of camouflage.”

“And your employer has this kind of technology. Is he giving it to the leagues?”

Ciaran shook his head. “My understanding is that this isn’t for gift, sale, loan or lease to anyone, much less any government. Iain isn’t big into helping governments hurt people and, as far as he’s concerned, that’s pretty much all they do. From what I understand, he is helping the Royal government because the Blue government is a lot worse than the Royals are.”

“What about the Irish government?”

Ciaran shrugged. “I don’t think he has a lot of business with them. They don’t have much money and, well, we get back to the fact that governments seldom do anything good, and what good they might be able to accomplish they can only do by stealing money from its citizens to do it with. Individual charity does much better much more efficiently and has throughout history.”

“That sounds a lot like treason.”

“Isn’t it interesting that treason is defined by the very people who think it’s all right to kill or imprison you if you disagree with them on what it means?” He smiled. “You don’t get to do that to them if they disagree with you. Why should they?” She gave him a confused look and he chuckled and changed the subject. “Eriu tells me that Jeremiah should be ready to be released later today, but that he’s going to need some time with his new arm before it’ll do everything he wants. Fortunately he hasn’t been without it for long. I’ve been told that if you lose a limb for a while and then get it back through magic or technology it can take months to get complete control over it. He should be all right in a few weeks.”

Linda eyed the field again. "His house was almost completely destroyed. Mike says Jeremiah will have to stay with us while his house is being rebuilt."

Ciaran grimaced. "We'll leave this afternoon."

Linda's head came around. "Why?"

"Jeremiah hates me for my parents. He'll not want me around and since he has to stay here we should leave. We can camp nearby or just move on if we must."

"Ciaran Sullivan, this is not Jeremiah Ahern's house. He does not have any say in who can stay here." Linda gave him a cross look. "That is up to me and Michael."

Ciaran nodded, giving Elsa a glance. She was busy watching their surroundings. "I know, Aunt Linda, but I don't see any decent reason to subject you and Uncle Mike to your father in law being angry with my presence. It's not right to do that to you."

"I appreciate your concern, Ciaran." Linda seemed to be calming down slightly. "You could just settle this issue with your grandfather, you know."

"Not possible," Elsa said flatly. "We didn't do anything, so there's nothing to make amends for. Whatever he's so pissed about is only in his head." She smirked at Ciaran. "I could crack his head open and we could look to see if we can find his issue."

Linda blinked and gave kind of a guilty laugh. "Don't tempt me." Elsa looked surprised and Linda smiled grimly. "He is my father in law and therefore he is family. That doesn't mean I like him all that much. He's been nothing but a trial for Mike and me since we married ten years ago."

Elsa cocked her head. "Are you infertile?"

Linda gave her a brief glare. "No. We've had three children. None of them lived past the age of six."

Although she didn't stop her survey of their surroundings, Elsa had the grace to fold her ears apologetically. "I'm sorry if I caused you pain."

Linda sighed. "I'm sorry too. It's not your fault that they died. All three were taken by the illnesses that come through in the winter." She folded her arms. "Would this pokegirl you want Mike to have been able to prevent that?"

Ciaran cleared his throat gently and she looked at him. "Honestly, Aunt Linda, there are several breeds that could help heal almost any illness with their healing magic. If your family included one of those, she might have been able to save your children, but there's no way to tell now. I try not to speculate about the past in situations like that. There are really no right answers when you go there." He raised a hand as she started to speak. "And for the record, other than the one comment Elsa made and now, we have not brought up you and Uncle Mike having a pokegirl to either one of you."

Linda scowled. "Mike has been talking about it ever since. I thought you'd been encouraging him."

"If I were, I'd admit it," Ciaran replied. "But if I were trying to talk him into getting a pokegirl, I'd be talking to you about it too."

Linda looked surprised. "You would?"

"Marriage is a partnership. A pokegirl is a big responsibility. It’s like having another wife or adopting a child and it's not a decision that only one member of a couple can make without angering the other. I'm not going to be the cause of that level of discord in your marriage." He smiled. "Not to mention that if I were only talking to Uncle Mike, you'd get angry with me just as much if not more than you'd be angry at Uncle Mike. I'm smart enough to realize that and I like you, so I don't want you angry at me."

She looked surprised once more. "You like me?"

He flashed a grin. "Look, I understand from the call to mother that you and she have some kind of a history. I don't know what it is and I don't really care. You've been a great host and you're a nice person. Of course I like you. If we weren’t family I’d still want to be friends with you." He turned his thoughts inward. What time is it in Texas?

His twee responded immediately. It's a little after three in the morning.

Thank you. As soon as both of my parents are awake, please let them know that I would like to speak with them and that it's urgent but not an emergency.

I will take care of it. Would you like me to specify why you want to talk to them today?

Ciaran managed not to shake his head. No, the kind of issues I'm going to raise I think I should do myself.

Very well.

Linda’s cheeks reddened. “Thank you, Ciaran. I appreciate that.”

He focused on Linda again. "So you don't think we should leave?"

She smiled amusedly. "I think you probably want to leave and that it would probably be best for you but I'd really prefer if you stayed. I may need the support so I don't kill your grandfather."

Elsa laughed quietly. Ciaran gave her a glance. "Then we'll stay until either you or Uncle Mike wants us to leave."

Linda gave him a grateful look. "Thank you, I appreciate this." She looked at the sun. "I need to do laundry. Do you have anything you want to add to it?"

Elsa's head came around and she gave Ciaran a look. "See, we didn't have to do laundry yesterday."

"It is our laundry and we do it. Besides, we didn’t know Aunt Linda was going to offer to do it for us."

"I hate doing laundry."

"And everyone is aware that you do. I'm not that sergeant. I help and you don't get the worst job."

She snorted. "That doesn't make me hate laundry any less."

Linda chuckled. "So you don't have any laundry that needs washed?"

"No, Aunt Linda, we don't. Thank you for asking, though."

Elsa watched Linda heading for her house. "What are we going to do now?"

"Where is Tamsin?"

"She and Libby are off doing secret stuff." Her ears flicked when he raised an eyebrow. "Not my words, Ciaran. That’s what Libby told Victoria. I think they're doing magic together, either learning or just casting."

"Then let's get the rest of our group and hunt some ferals."

"What about the old man? Don't we need to be around when he gets let out?"

"We do, but that won't happen until later this afternoon," Ciaran said. "We'll just sweep Uncle Mike's property and maybe that of his neighbors and be back before then." He waved towards the house. "Let's get the others."

A few hours later Ciaran and his ladies were taking a break next to a stream. They hadn't seen a single feral and few large animals. Ceres wiped her mouth as she sat up from taking a drink in the running water. "I wonder if this area is also in the territory that Wasp hive had hunted."

Ciaran pulled out his handheld and accessed a map of the area. "I think you're right. We're roughly fourteen miles from it. As they got hungrier they'd be hunting farther from the hive. And if their queen was smart enough to make the Wasps hunt the wild animals out before switching to domesticated ones their presence could go unnoticed for a very long time."

Victoria scowled. "So we won't see many ferals and it was lucky that Linda and Mike weren't taken. That doesn't help our hunting."

"Some days hunting isn't good," Ciaran said philosophically. "I've seen it deer hunting and fishing, why not feral hunting too?"

Your parents are getting ready to call you. I estimate no more than three or four minutes before they initiate the call.

He nodded and settled down on a clean looking rock. "My parents are going to call."

Elsa frowned. "How do you know that?"

"My twee is monitoring theirs and I asked them to call me."

Spirit was standing guard with Kentarch assisting as she learned more about the body she inhabited. The Haunting looked in his direction. "Why did you want them to contact you?"

Before he could answer, his handheld signaled an incoming call. He waited a few seconds before accepting it. Both of his parent' busts appeared floating in front of him. "Good morning."

His father smiled at him. "And a good morning to you too, Ciaran." His eyes flicked around. "Ladies."

His mother looked more serious than Rafael did. "Good morning. It's actually a good thing that you wanted to talk to us. We have news for all of you. It turns out that I'm pregnant."

Victoria's mouth dropped and she smiled hugely. "That's wonderful!" Her enthusiasm waned when Martha didn't smile back. "Isn't it?"

Martha shrugged. "I'm not a young woman, Victoria. There could be all kinds of complications with the pregnancy."

There will not be any complications, Ciaran's twee whispered in his mind. "I'll pray for you and my unknown brother or sister, Mother," he said quietly.

Rafael chuckled. "Don't forget me in those prayers," he said. "If anyone is least likely to survive Martha's pregnancy it's me. I'm the target of her mood swings, after all."

His wife eyed him briefly. "It is your fault."

His good humor didn't flag. "According to my twee, part of the fault is because we weren't aware that the twees were going to roll back our biological age. I’d blame Ciaran but I doubt he could have known about it." He looked at Ciaran. "Now that you've got our news, what did you want to talk about?"

Ciaran took a deep breath. "I wanted to give you and Mother a warning."

Rafael's smile faded. "A warning?"

"It's about your visit to Uncle Mike's for Christmas."

Martha folded her arms. "Just come out with it, Ciaran."

He nodded. "I'm not saying you shouldn't come, but I'm saying that you, as well as Beibhinn and Neem, need to be aware of something that I found out after we last spoke, and it should be considered before I send the pinnace for you." He hesitated. "It turns out that you two were mistaken about certain events here. Mother, not long after we talked I discovered that your father is still alive."

Martha went white while all humor vanished from Rafael's face as if it had never existed. He scowled. "Have the two of you met?"

"We did."

Elsa glanced at Ciaran and turned back to the hologram. "We stopped at a pub to get directions to Mike's house and some wit there thought it would be funny to send us to Jeremiah's instead. He threatened Ciaran with a shotgun."

Rafael came out of his chair. "He did WHAT!"

"It's ok," Ciaran said soothingly. "Nobody got shot."

"We didn't know it was him at that point," Victoria added "and he didn’t know who Ciaran was. It was quite a surprise when Mike took us back to Jeremiah's house so Ciaran could fulfill Martha's request and speak with him."

Martha hugged herself. "And how did Jeremiah react when he discovered you're his grandson?"

"He's still pretty angry at you and Father," Ciaran said carefully, "or maybe he’s just angry at the universe. He wanted nothing to do with me." He gestured around him. "Or us, for that matter."

"Which is very ironic," Ceres said, "when you consider what happened later."

Martha blinked at the Tantrasaur's tone. "What happened?"

Ceres looked at Ciaran. "May I?"

"Sure."

She turned back to Martha and Rafael. "Jeremiah Ahern's residence was attacked and almost completely destroyed by Wasp pokegirls. He was captured by them and carried off to the hive. Someone came to Mike's house to tell him and we responded, destroying the hive and rescuing Jeremiah Ahern, who had lost an arm sometime during the incident. He's currently in the medical bay of the Cnoc Raffan, having his arm grown back." She smiled slightly at Martha's gasp. "The irony, of course, is that the man who rejected Ciaran completely owes his life and health to our intercession."

Rafael frowned. "Why don't you refer to him as your grandfather?"

Ciaran rubbed his eyes. "As far as I'm concerned, he's not. He's just some angry old man. The fact that I’m related to him is something I’m trying to pretend isn’t true." He smiled grimly. "I know that's not very Christian of me, but he has been nothing but unpleasant and I don't want to deal with him. I like your mother much better. She's got some odd habits, but she seems nice enough."

Martha's eyes went wide. "Rionach is alive?"

"She is," Ciaran said. "And you need to know and you need to warn Beibhinn and Neem that I have not told anyone here about nor offered them twee."

Martha looked surprised. “Why not?”

Ciaran gave her a slightly guilty smile. “Because I’m not a good person, mother. I see no reason for your father to live past his allotted span and I think Uncle Mike will tell him about the twee if I offer twee to him and Aunt Linda.”

“There’s something else,” Elsa interrupted Martha as she started to say something.

Rafael shook his head. “There’s more?”

“Something else you need to consider in regards to your planned Christmas visit is that today Linda mentioned that Jeremiah will have to stay with her and Mike while recovering and then until his house is rebuilt. The structure will have to be torn down first and I suspect that the whole process will take some months.”

Martha looked at Ciaran. “Aren’t you staying with Michael?”

“We are. We were planning to camp somewhere else after today until Linda asked us to stay. I think she’s hoping our presence will keep Jeremiah’s attention and give her some breathing room.”

Rafael looked at his son curiously. “Are you going to do it?”

“I’m considering it, at least for a while. All Saints and All Souls are coming up and it would be nice to spend it with family. And I can go to All Souls Mass with Mike or Rionach if pokegirls can attend. After that, I don’t know. I’m waiting to hear from someone and until I do I’m kind of at loose ends.”

“What if we don’t want to attend Mass,” Elsa asked.

“You may or may not as you will,” Ciaran said. “But I want to attend a church that will let you have the option no matter what each of you decides what she would like to do.”

“And if you can’t find a church that will allow them,” Rafael asked.

“God loves me and I can ask Jesus for forgiveness without the help of a priest. I’m doing it now.”

“That goes against Church doctrine,” Rafael pointed out. “Priests are supposed to intercede for man.”

“It does. But my God loves my ladies. If I have to, I’ll consider switching religions for them. I will stay Christian, but no man will decide that these women are not people and have me tolerate it. God knows they are people and good ones. After all, He sent them to me so that they and I can take care of each other.”

“Well said,” Martha smiled at them all. “Do you have any other surprises besides my father and Rafael’s mother being alive?”

“Yes,” Elsa said. “Linda and Mike have had three children but all of them died before they were six. She’s still pretty hurt about it. I thought you should know.”

Martha looked at Ciaran and he shrugged. “We found out when Elsa put her foot in her mouth over the subject. Aunt Linda didn’t volunteer it.”

Martha nodded. “Thank you, Elsa. As for the rest of you, thank you as well. Ciaran is right when he said we will have to think carefully about our trip to Ireland.”

Rafael nodded. “Please keep in touch with us, Ciaran. I want to know how things develop there.”

“I will. I’m going to give Rionach a phone too, the next time I see her.”

“When will that be?”

Ciaran shrugged. “Hopefully soon.” He grimaced. “Depending on how things unfold with Jeremiah, I may be asking to stay in her barn.”

Ciaran Sullivan

Victoria – Angel

Ceres – Tantrasaur

Elsa – Mazouku

Spirit – Astral Kentarch

Kentarch – Haunting

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